Brussels (Brussels Morning) The EU Ombudsman —official EU watchdog — released its four-year strategy today, a few days after its chief Emily O’Reilly criticised “the lack of transparency” in the European Council.
The rebuke was made public in an interview given to Investigate-Europe, on 2 December, when O’Reilly said “the Council should record the member states’ position” whenever EU draft laws are negotiated.
“The Council still sees itself as a group of diplomats, working in a diplomatic sphere, with confidentiality. Even though it is technically, legally, in every way, a legislative body”, said the EU Ombudsman’s chief.
This lack of transparency leads to a number of vulnerabilities, including a lack of citizen participation and the potential for undue lobbying influence, reads the strategy.
The EU Ombudsman said it recognises the EU administration has, in general, “higher standards” of administration, ethics and transparency, “when compared to other global actors and even many member states.”
Through its four-year plan, the EU watchdog proposes to have a lasting impact on the EU administration, ensuring real-life relevance to European citizens.
The increased safety of medicines authorised in the EU and transparency in the negotiations between the EU and the US on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal are some of the public interest cases hailed as flagships by O’Reilly over the past four years.
The EU Ombudsman has also been active in curbing revolving doors. In February last year, the EU’s watchdog remitted a decision to the European Commission where it listed a number of technical suggestions for improvement.
Other proposals from the EU watchdog for the years to come include boosting awareness about their work and increasing efficiency on its investigations.
COVID-19 as an amplifier
Adding to the existing challenges, O’Reilly considers that the pandemic has increased citizens’ concerns and fears amid strained public budgets, causing “major implications for public administrations in Europe and beyond”.
Overall, the Ombudsman says the EU administration “must become more resilient through strengthening its transparency, ethics and democratic accountability”.
It further adds that EU institutions ought to “understand and act” on the lessons of the links between the lack of those elements and the rise of Euroscepticism.
O’Reilly’s office investigates complaints about maladministration and examines broader systemic issues with the EU institutions, opening approximately 300 investigations per year.